|Sampler worked by Rebecca Jones|
Rebecca seemed to be following the path which her careful mother had set out for her but she had an independent, restless side to her which brought her into conflict with her family. Before she was twelve she got her mother's permission to go to Quaker meetings with the children of neighbours who were Friends and she kept going, not really knowing why, even when her mother began to be uneasy. Soon she was attending meeting without her mother's knowledge, sitting at the back near the door where she could come and go unnoticed.
Catherine wrote a reply full of encouragement and became a kind of mentor to Rebecca, continuing their correspondence when she returned to England. Rebecca was set on her path towards Quakerism but this also set her against her mother. Rebecca now felt that she could no longer continue to study or teach to others 'the lighter and merely ornamental branches' of learning and her mother, seeing the ruin of her hopes, tried to stop her attending meetings by any means she could. Rebecca stayed true to her calling and eventually, at the age of nineteen, was recognised as a minister by Philadelphia Friends. This acknowledgement of her daughter's gifts and the kindness and tact with which Friends treated both mother and daughter reconciled Mary Jones to Rebecca's choice. Rebecca did teach in her mother's school and took it over on Mary's death in 1761, together with her friend and fellow Quaker Hannah Cathrall. The school thrived and taught all branches of learning including practical, rather than ornamental needlework.
|Silhouettes of Hannah Cathrall and Rebecca Jones|
Rebecca became one of the pillars of Philadelphia Quakers. She was particularly assiduous in helping the poor, having known hardship herself and having to rely on her own efforts for her livelihood. She was a devoted friend of John Woolman and supported his campaigning against slavery. She might have remained in Philadelphia but in 1784 she gave up her school and laid before her monthly meeting a long-considered calling to visit Friends in England. She was given a certificate and set out on a journey which would take her four years. During this time, with a variety of women companions, her memorandum book reveals that she travelled thousands of miles in the UK and Ireland and attended hundreds of meetings of various kinds. She was particularly concerned with servants, apprentices and labourers and also spoke particularly to the young, remembering her own spiritual journey. Rebecca also managed to visit the ageing Catherine Payton Phillips and renew their loving acquaintance in person.
In 1788, under a sense of 'fresh and sure direction' Rebecca returned to Philadelphia. Having given up her school and with her eyesight deteriorating, she needed to find another way of earning a living and set up a
|Rebecca in later life|
In 1793 Rebecca fell ill in the yellow fever epidemic during which 4,000 Philadelphians died, but lived to resume her ministry and the wide correspondence which was a major activity of her later years. In the mid-1790s, she contributed her knowledge of Friends' education in England to the founding of Westtown School, a boarding school which opened in the spring of 1799, patterned after the Ackworth Friends School in Yorkshire.
Over the years Rebecca retained, in her unassuming way, a certain 'queenly dignity' as well as an easy and gracious manner. and among women of her time she stood out for her intellectual capacity, quick wit, strength of character and 'sanctified common sense.' She was a trusted counsellor and informal almoner, 'eminent for leading the cause of the poor.' Her modest home was always open to those in trouble or wishing her advice and it was said of her that she possessed 'singular penetration on discovering cases of distress and delicacy in affording relief.'
In 1813, she suffered an attack of typhus fever and for the last five years of her life, she was confined almost entirely to her home, where she was devotedly cared for by Bernice Chattin Allinson, a young widow whom she had taken in as a daughter. Rebecca Jones died in Philadelphia in 1818 aged 78 and was buried in the Friends burial ground of Arch Street meeting house. on the morning of the yearly meeting of ministers & elders.